When I celebrated my 12th birthday, my grandparents presented me with a Book of Discoveries, featuring such heroes as Alexander Fleming (penicillin) and Marconi (radio transmission). Inside the front cover my grandfather had inscribed, ‘Life is a voyage, therefore choose a good pilot.’ They had been brought up in Bristol and knew of the hazardous route ships had to follow up the Bristol Channel and around the bends of the narrow River Avon into Bristol docks.
These boats needed to be guided by someone who was well acquainted with the shifting sandbanks and who could handle the 46-foot tidal range with its strong currents. This work was undertaken by the pilots who often lived at Pill, near Avonmouth. They sailed out to the incoming vessels in their skiffs, and the first pilot to hail the ship won the right to come aboard and guide it safely to the harbour. In the mid-nineteenth century, steam tugs were introduced, and they would tow the ships all the way to their moorings.
I passed Bristol docks every day on the bus to school and easily recognised these tugboats. At the time I did not have Christ on board the vessel of my life, although I knew all about him. Several years were to pass before I invited him on board.
Christ our captain
You may be familiar with the old hymn by Edward Hopper (1818-1888):
Jesus, Saviour, pilot me
Over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll,
Hiding rock and treach’rous shoal.
Chart and compass come from Thee.
Jesus, Saviour, pilot me.
Jesus has lived and died on the same earth that we live on. He is the only one who lived in Heaven and came to this planet to show us how to get there, by believing in him and trusting his Word. He said, ‘I am the way’ (John 14:6), and we need to believe him because his words are true. If we find it difficult to believe, the Bible tells us that if we seek him then we will find him, and the Holy Spirit will assist us, helping us to repent of our sin and letting Jesus, our Saviour, pilot us through life.
The Bible — our chart and compass
Life has many unforeseen dangers, and although some are unavoidable and ordained by God for our sanctification, others could be avoided if we only took advice from the chart and compass of God’s Word, the Bible. It is a lighthouse warning of dangerous rocks and giving us our bearings and sense of direction.
We read in Psalm 119:105, ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.’ Perhaps it’s getting dark, and we feel our feet are slipping. We may feel our faith is weakening, or we may be full of uncertainty when overcome by a severe illness, infirmity, or family problems. It is then that the advice and comfort of God’s Word and his promises will lift our spirits.
Jesus has experienced every sort of difficulty that we could ever face, and so the words he spoke to his disciples and the words his Spirit gave to the prophets and apostles will all help us travel safely from day to day on life’s journey until we reach our destination.
When he was about to return to heaven, Jesus told his disciples, ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come’ (John 16:13). It is the Spirit who sheds light upon the Word and applies it at just the right time to our hearts and souls.
A Captain who died for his passengers
The astounding thing is that for passengers to be allowed to disembark in Heaven, they need to be perfectly sinless and clothed in the white garments of Christ’s righteousness. The only way this could be made possible was by the Captain living the life of a servant and then dying for us, which was the cost of our cleansing and clothing. He will make sure that all his passengers arrive safely; he would not die for anybody and then lose them overboard en route to his home in glory. Our Captain knows the way and will navigate us safely to our destination.
On a modern cruise ship, the Maître d’hôtel is responsible for taking care of the physical needs of the passengers. Yet our Captain will also see to it that we are supplied with everything necessary for our bodily and spiritual welfare. He serves us with the generosity of God’s providence, ‘And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 4:19).
Saved from the storm
The disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee when they were caught in a severe storm and began to panic. They even accused Jesus of not caring for them; they in effect blamed God for their situation (Mark 4:37-38). But Jesus still cared for them, even though asleep — and now he never sleeps. He stilled the storm and brought them safely ashore. Is Christ in the boat of your life?
John Newton was the captain of a slave ship and knew severe Atlantic storms. He was converted, and besides writing the hymn Amazing grace, he also wrote Begone, unbelief; where he says, ‘With Christ in the vessel, I smile at the storm.’ Can you smile at life’s storms? It may sometimes be difficult, but it makes all the difference to know Christ is with you and loves you as he guides you through life. Charles Wesley wrote about this in another hymn, Jesu, lover of my soul. He says:
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,
Till the storm of life be past;
Safe into the haven guide;
O receive my soul at last!
This is our insurance policy which comes free with our gospel boarding pass. Welcome aboard!